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Microwave Ovens and Teflon: Dangerous or Not?

By Gary F. Zeolla

 

There is much controversy in regards to two common methods of cooking food: in microwave ovens and in Teflon® coated pans. In this article, I will explore these controversies.

 

Microwave Ovens

 

I have been using a microwave oven ever since college, over 30 years ago. And I was taught in my college nutrition classes (I have a B.S. in Nutrition Science from Penn State), that microwaving was one of the best ways to cook vegetables. The reason was, it cooks food very quickly and with little or no water, so there is not sufficient time to destroy nutrients, and the nutrients do not seep into water that is usually thrown away.

 

Health Seminar:

But then, back in 2000, I attended a "health seminar" conducted by a "radio doctor" I had been listening to. The speaker claimed microwaves were dangerous. He said a study conducted in Germany showed they altered the molecules in food so as to make them unrecognizable to the body, and thus carcinogenic. He also claimed the study showed that nutrients were lost or altered in such a way as to make them unusable by the human body. And finally, he claimed the study showed microwave ovens leaked radiation that would also be carcinogenic.

I had never heard any of this before, so I was rather skeptical. But then I really got skeptical when he said that the results of the study were never published as the microwave industry "suppressed" it. I am not one to believe in "conspiracy theories." In this case, if the study was never published and subsequently "suppressed" then how did he know about it? And since it was never published, there was no opportunity for it to be peer-reviewed, but this is an important step in verifying the results of any scientific study.

But when I got home, I went to PubMed, and I looked for studies on microwaves. I have used this site many times to find studies on the benefits or detriments of different foods. Many of the studies I cite in my God-given Foods Eating Plan book were found on this site. It contains abstracts from a wide variety of scientific journals. But I could not find a single study showing anything dangerous about microwaving.

I'm not sure about Germany, but here in the United States we have freedom of the press, so scientific studies do not get "suppressed." And different groups, like Consumer Reports, independently perform studies on all types of products. And we hear about such studies all of the time on the news, especially, when something is even remotely considered dangerous. But I have never heard any such warnings about microwaves on the radio or TV news.

 

The Internet:

But the Internet is a different thing. You can find differing views on just about any subject. And sure enough, if you Google "microwave dangers" you will get a long list of articles reporting supposed dangers of microwaves, like the ones that speaker claimed, along many more such supposed dangers.

But all of these articles have a couple of things in common. First, they will all give a long list of supposed dangers. However, most of the time there will be no citations for any of these claims. In other words, they do not cite a single scientific study that supports the claimed dangers. At best, they might cite anecdotal "evidence." But personal experience simply proves nothing, as any scientific researcher will tell you.

Either that or they will refer to some study, but will claim, just like the above speaker, that it was "suppressed" by the microwave industry. Or it will be a very old study, done 20 or more years ago, and performed in some foreign country, not in the USA, such as the long fallen Soviet Union. And/ or it will be a small study, with only a handful of people involved in the study. And the credentials of the researchers are not given. Also, there will be no links to the actual study itself. So there is no way for the reader to verify if any of the claims are true. And finally, you'll find that the same obscure studies cited over and over again in each of the various articles.

But then, if you Google "microwave myths" you will find just as long of a list of articles exposing the problems with the "dangers" articles, such as the problems I point out above. These articles will also cite studies and provide information as to why the supposed claims simply do not make sense.

Personally, I think the latter articles are the most accurate. Of course, there is some alteration in food and loss of nutrients from microwaving, but the same is true about any cooking method. And since microwaving is quicker and does not require added liquid, it simply is reasonable that it would have the least effect on food, just as I learned in college.

 

Possible True Dangers:

Now there are a few claimed dangers that could be true. It probably is not wise to microwave in plastic containers, as the plastic can break down and toxic particles could thus seep into the food. I noticed this breaking down of plastic simply by looking at the corrosion of plastic containers I had been using for an extended period of time in the microwave. It made sense that if the container was breaking down, then some of the plastic particles could be ending up in the food. However, if a plastic container is labeled as "microwave safe" then it probably won't break down and is probably safe to use. But I wanted to be sure, so I switched to using glass containers in the microwave, and after years of use, they show no such corrosion.

Secondly, yes, microwaves could conceivable leak radiation. And that may have been a danger when microwaves first came out decades ago, but modern-day microwaves seal very well and are subject to rigorous testing, so there is no such leakage, unless they are damaged in some way. In that case, it is time to get a new microwave.

And finally, microwaves do emit electromagnetic radiation (EMR), but so does any electronic device. There again is much controversy over whether EMR is dangerous or not. But EMR only emits about three feet from an electronic product, so take a couple of steps back when using a microwave or any electronic product for that matter. But in today's high-tech society, that is not always possible. You're probably being exposed to more EMR from that cell phone in your hand or pocket than you ever will be from using a microwave. And I am being exposed to EMR as I sit here in front of my "old-fashioned" desktop computer typing this article. But, of course, it's not possible to stay 3' away from it. So if you're worried about EMR, a microwave is probably the least of your worries.

 

Articles:

If you're interested in studying this issue further, then do the same thing I did: do an Internet search on "microwave dangers" and then "microwave myths." It will be confusing, but read articles on both sides and come to your own conclusions. To get you started, below are a few of the articles I read:

The Proven Dangers of Microwaves.

The Proven Dangers of Microwave Ovens.

Are Microwave Ovens Dangerous?

Does microwaving food remove its nutritional value?

The Myths About The Dangers Of Microwave Ovens.

Debunked: The Dangers of Microwave Ovens.

Do Microwaves Cause Cancer? (VIDEO).

 

Teflon Coated Pans

 

Like microwaves, I have been using Teflon® coated pans for as long as I can remember. And I always considered them to be great invention, easy to clean and a healthy way to cooks foods, especially vegetables. Like microwaving, sautéing vegetables is quick and waterless, so there is little loss of nutrients, and I think they taste better than other methods of cooking. But a few years back, I heard somewhere (I forget where now), that Teflon could cause health problems. So once again I took to the Internet to do some research.

 

The Internet:

I did the same thing I did with microwaves, I first checked PubMed, but couldn't find anything about Teflon. So I Googled "Teflon dangers" and then "Teflon myths." And once again, each search produced a long list of articles with conflicting information. Some claimed many dangers from the use of Teflon coated pans while others said these claims were bogus.

The main supposed danger from Teflon is the Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) used in its production. It is claimed that heating Teflon causes toxic PFOA fumes to be released. And the sites that claim Teflon is dangerous will give a long list of problems PFOA can cause, such as flu-like symptoms and cancer. But once again, the sites might refer to studies, but there will be no links to the actual studies themselves. So again, there is no way to verify the accuracy of the studies. Also, once again, these sites will cite the same obscure studies over and over again. And most suspicious, is after scaring people off of Teflon, many of these sites will then offer to sell you a "safer" alternative.

The "myths" sites explain why the claims on the "dangers" sites are not true. First off, yes, PFOA is toxic and is used in the production of Teflon, but very little if any is actually left in the finished product. And it takes heating Teflon to excessive temperatures for toxic fumes to be released. But this occurs only if you leave an empty pan on the stove for an extended period of time. And once a pan's coating starts to break down, it is time get a new pan. It also means you're probably using too high of a cooking temperature.

One last point, I found conflicting information on whether Teflon coated pans can be put in the dishwasher or not. Some said they could be, while others said that doing so would break down the Teflon. To be sure, I always wash such pans by hand. It only takes a couple of minutes since food does not stick to non-stick pans (that's the whole point), so they are very easy to hand wash.

 

Articles:

Again, I encourage the reader to do what I did, Google "Teflon dangers" and then "Teflon myths." Do some reading and come to your own conclusions. Below are again some articles to get you started.

Skip the non-stick to avoid the dangers of Teflon.

Teflon Dangers in Nonstick Cookware and a Better Alternative.

Is Teflon® Dangerous?

Myth: Teflon-Coated Pans Are Dangerous.

Is Non-Stick Cookware Dangerous? Fact Vs. Myth.

Teflon and Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA).

 

Personal Experiment

 

Even though my research assured me that microwave ovens and Teflon were not dangerous, given my many health problems, I figured it was worth a try to avoid both and see if there was any improvement in my health. I already had stainless steel pots, so I got a stainless steel pan and began cooking and heating up food in them rather than using the microwave or Teflon coated pans.

I went over a month without using a microwave or Teflon. And I noticed no difference in my health whatsoever. But what I did get was frustrated from the increased difficulty of cooking and heating up food and cleaning the pots or pans afterwards. As mentioned, Teflon pans are very easy to clean, but with a stainless steel pan, the food can really stick, which can be difficult to clean. And with a microwave, I can quickly heat up food and eat it in the same glass container or plate, which can then easily be put in the dishwasher. So I went back to using the microwave and Teflon coated pans, and again, I did not notice any change in my health, but I was relieved by the increased ease of cooking and cleaning.

 

Microwave Ovens and Teflon: Dangerous or Not? Copyright © 2014 by Gary F. Zeolla.

Disclaimers: The material presented in this article is intended for educational purposes only. The author is not offering medical or legal advice. Accuracy of information is attempted but not guaranteed. Before undertaking any diet, exercise, or health improvement program, one should consult your doctor. The author is in no way responsible or liable for any bodily harm, physical, mental, or emotional, that results from following any of the advice in this article.

The above article was posted on this site February 2, 2014.
It originally appeared in the free email newsletter FitTips for One and All.

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